President Biden will unveil the first color image from the James Webb Space Telescope at the White House on Monday, heralding the end of tests and departures and the beginning of scientific operations for the world’s most powerful space observatory.
“We’re going to give humanity a new view of the universe, one we’ve never seen before,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who will join Biden at the White House, told reporters in an introductory briefing.
“One of those images … is the deepest image of our universe ever taken,” he said. “And we’re just beginning to understand what Webb can and will do.”
NASA plans to publish additional “first-light” images on Tuesday, images designed to show the Web’s ability to capture light from first-generation stars and galaxies. to chart the details of the evolution of stars, from the birth of stars to death by a supernova; The study of the chemical composition of the atmospheres of exoplanets.
Over the past 30 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has become one of the most popular Famous musical instruments In Astronomical History, astronomers help determine the age of the universe, confirm the existence of supermassive black holes, capture the deepest views of the universe ever collected, and provide fly-by-fly images of the class of planets in the Earth’s solar system.
But Webb, operating at a few degrees above absolute zero behind a tennis-court-sized canopy, promises to push the boundaries of human knowledge even deeper with a 21.3-foot-wide segmented primary mirror capable of detecting faint infrared rays of light from the era when stars began to “illuminate” in Aftermath of the Big Bang.
Launched on Christmas DayWebb stationed in a file gravitationally stable orbit Roughly a million miles from Earth. Over the past six months, engineers and scientists have worked through a complex series of deployments, activations and examinations, adjusting the focus of the telescope and improving the performance of its four science instruments.
The preliminary images released on Monday and Tuesday, selected by an international team of astronomers, will prove to the world that Webb is in fact science ready, and that it produces excellent and fascinating results, said Klaus Pontopedan, Webb project scientist. at the Space Telescope Science Institute.
“It also highlights the breadth of science that can be done with Webb and highlights all four science tools,” he added. “And last but not least, to celebrate the beginning of normal scientific processes.”
Webb’s first public image goals include:
- Carina Nebula: A vast star-forming region in the constellation Carina 7,600 light-years from Earth, four times the size of the Orion Nebula. The Carina Nebula is home to the Milky Way’s most famous star as well as the binary system Eta Carinae, which includes a massive sun expected to explode in a supernova explosion in the near future (astronomically speaking).
- The Southern Ring Nebula: An expanding gas cloud about half a light-year long ejected from a dying star. Relatively low-mass stars like Earth’s sun would end their lives by exploding their outer layers, forming so-called “planetary nebulae” as their cores slowly contract and cool.
- Stephen’s Quintet: A group of five galaxies in the constellation Pegasus 290 million light-years from Earth was discovered in 1877, the first compact group of galaxies to be discovered. Four of the five galaxies interact gravitationally in a slow-moving merger.
- WASP-96b: An unusual exoplanet about 1,150 light-years away, about half the size of Jupiter, and orbiting its sun every 3.4 days. By spectrally analyzing the light from the parent star as it passes through the atmosphere of an exoplanet on its way to Earth, astronomers can elicit details about its chemical composition.
- SMACS J0723.3-7327: The combined gravity of countless stars in massive galaxy clusters like this can act as a powerful lens if the alignment is just right, magnifying light from distant objects in the far background to provide a deeper look back through space and time. of what might be possible.
“The first images will include notes covering the range of web science topics,” Pontopedan said. “From the early universe, the deepest infrared view of the universe to date. We’ll also see an example of how galaxies interact and grow, and how these catastrophic collisions between galaxies drive the star formation process.”
“We will see some examples from the life cycle of stars, from the birth of stars, where Webb can detect new young stars emerging from the cloud of gas and dust in which they were born, to the death of stars, such as dying stars that seed the galaxy with new elements and new dust that may one day become part of of new planetary systems.”
Last but not least, he said, the team will display the first chemical fingerprints from the atmosphere of an exoplanet.
One of the most amazing images of the Hubble Space Telescope was a raw “deep field“Look at a tiny speck of seemingly empty sky over the course of 10 days in 1995. To the astonishment of professionals and the public alike, that long-exposure image revealed more than 3,000 galaxies of every shape, size and age, some of the oldest and most distant ever.
Subsequent Hubble Deep Fields pushed back even further, spotting the faint light of galaxies that were shining within 500 million years of the Big Bang. How stars formed and organized so quickly into galactic structures remains a mystery, as is the evolution of supermassive black holes in their cores.
Webb’s four instruments are expected to push the frontier closer to the beginning of the formation of galaxies. A test image of the telescope’s Canadian-made precision-guidance sensor, an image not optimized for detecting very faint objects, revealed thousands of galaxies.
A web look at SMACS 0723 is expected to show the observatory’s enormous reach.
“This is only the beginning, we are just scratching the surface,” Pontopedan said. “We have in the first images, a few days of observations. Looking into the future, we have many years of observation, so we can only imagine what it will be.”
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